Capping arguably the darkest day in Carolina RailHawks history, the USL expansion Charlotte Independence quelled the hosts 1-0, ousting Carolina from the US Open Cup in the Third Round. It’s the earliest the RailHawks have exited the Open Cup since 2010.
A match that saw little offense turned in the 81st minute when Ryan Finley beat Carolina’s backline before slotting the game-winner past goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre.
After the game, Sylvestre protested that Finley was offside. RailHawks manager Colin Clarke laid blame on his team’s lack of execution.
“We had a throw-in and we threw it to them,” Clarke said. “That’s where it starts. Awful decision, awful play.”
Prior to Finley’s score, both teams exchanged wanting scoring chances. In the 56th minute, an effective RailHawks buildup gave second-sub Jamie Dell with an open shot in the box. However, he pulled his attempt wide right of goal.
In the 61st, Charlotte’s Jorge Herrera held up the ball in the box before turning and unleashing a snap shot that nearly sailed over Sylvestre before the leaping 6-foot-5 keeper finger-tipped the ball over the crossbar.
In the 71st minute, Sylvestre rushed out of goal in an attempt to clear away a Charlotte through ball. Finley beat Sylvestre to the spot, but as Finley attempted to maneuver around Sylvestre the keeper dispossessed him to thwart an open-goal opportunity.
Sylvestre got the start upon being recalled from loan to the Philadelphia Union, where he earned a spot on the MLS Team of the Week last weekend.
After tonight’s loss, a visibly angry Sylvestre expressed his frustration over the outcome, seemingly channeling his teammates in the process.
“What ticks me off is we have the potential to go out there and beat anybody, but we’re not showing it,” Sylvestre said. “We have a great team. If we had played to our potential we would have killed this team, easily. I know that because I trained with these guys.”
The Independence not only scrimmaged the RailHawks during the preseason, but their roster includes three former RailHawks: Daniel Jackson and brothers Enzo and Alex Martinez.
Charlotte manager Mike Jeffries said insight wasn’t essential to preparing for Carolina. However, he admits to game-planning his team’s tactics to take away the RailHawks’ strengths, chiefly speedy midfielder Ty Shipalane.
“That was number one on the list, I gotta be honest,” Jeffries said. “I have a lot of respect for Shipalane and Novo, and we felt like we had to keep those two under wraps. We knew if we managed to do that we would give ourselves a great opportunity to win the game.”
Wednesday began with the soccer world awakening to the news that 14 FIFA executives and sports marketing officials were indicted in an ongoing US corruption probe. Among those charged is Aaron Davidson, now ex-Chairman of the Board of Governors for the North American Soccer League (NASL) and President of Traffic Sports USA, Inc., the company that owns the RailHawks. On May 14, Traffic Sports USA and their parent company Traffic Sports International Inc. pled guilty to wire fraud conspiracy.
The surreality of the day is capped by Carolina’s lackluster performance. Clarke refused to concede these shocking events impacted his players’ preparation.
“It wasn’t a distraction, doesn’t even come into it,” Clarke said. “I just didn’t think we did enough good things on the field. We had our moments but didn’t make their keeper work enough.”
Distraction or not, the RailHawks’ early exit is a bitter pill for a team accustomed to Open Cup success the past three years.
“It’s hard because we’ve been successful [in the Open Cup] and now we won’t get that opportunity to play against one of the big boys,” Clarke said. “For the players, we won’t get that opportunity to showcase their talents. It’s disappointing.”